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The PC Turns 30 Today

David Gilbert


IBM 5150

The PC is celebrating its 30th birthday today, as the IBM 5150 made its debut on 12 August, 1981.

While the 5150 certainly wasn’t the first of its kind, the IBM PC was the first computer which captured the imagination of the public and paved the way for the explosion in the personal computer industry for the next 30 years.

Back in 1981, the IBM 5150 came with the Intel 8088 processor running at a whopping 4.77MHz, which at the time wasn’t even the most powerful of Intel’s processors but it was felt anything more powerful was unnecessary in a personal computer.

IBM 5150

For home use the computer attached to an audio-tape cassette player and a television set (which meant no floppy drives or video monitor) and sold for approximately $1,565. PC-DOS, the operating system, was not available on cassette at the time, so this basic system was only capable of running the Microsoft BASIC programming language, which is built-in and included with every PC.

The basic system came with 64kB of RAM, but just like today's systems the 5150 was upgradeable, up to 256kB and you could tack on a monchrome display and one or two floppy drives paying up to $6,000 (or $15,000 in today’s money) for the pleasure..

The success of the 5150 paved the way for the PC revolution which saw huge changes in the next three decades and saw a big chunk of ugly white plastic sit in the corner of millions of homes for many years. In that time we’ve seen the rise (and fall) of the Commodore 64, the first Mac, laptops, Pentium processors, Windows, Mac OS and now tablets.

IBM 5150

Steve Jobs famously said earlier this year that we are now in a post-PC era where people will use tablets and other mobile devices rather than PCs. And it seems as if one of the group of 12 engineers involved in designing the original IBM 5150 agrees.

IBM engineer Mark Dean said he has switched to a tablet and that the PC is going the way of "vacuum tubes, typewriters, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs."

With 400 million PCs shipping this year, we’re not sure that the PC is dead, but whatever the future is, the PC has had a pretty incredible 30 years and we wish it a very happy birthday.

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